Same-sex marriage is now legal in 35 states, including Nevada, Utah and Idaho. All are strongholds of the Mormon Church – long an opponent of gay rights. But, Mormons are now attempting to show more acceptance of gay people both in - and out - of the Church.
In 2012, the Mormon Church launched a new website called mormonsandgays.org. It outlines the Church’s new perspective on same-sex attraction and features several video testimonies from members.
“My name is Ted, I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and I’m also gay. Some people may not be able to understand that, both inside of the church and outside of the church. But it’s ok for me because I’ve come to know that’s who I am.”
Ted became a member of the Church after he recognized his attraction to men. At this time, the Church’s recommendation to gay members was to get married and start a family. Family is the foundation of the Church’s teachings.
“Well I did get married and it didn’t solve the problem in fact it actually made me feel worse.”
The Church no longer counsels that as the option. According to the website, their new message to LGBT members is love and acceptance. Since the Mormon Church is a top-down religion, this change must come from the highest echelons. Elder D. Todd Christofferson is on the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the second-highest governing body in the Church.
“Same sex attraction in and of itself is not a sin. When people have those desires and same sex attractions, our attitude is stay with us. I think that’s what God is saying, stay with me. And that’s what we want to say in the Church, stay with us.”
This softening has encouraged some Mormons to offer support. A group calling itself Mormons Building Bridges also formed in 2012. They help spread this new message of acceptance to LGBT communities around the country. Susan Mikesell is a spokesperson for the group. She says a lot of their motivation comes from the changing viewpoint seen on the mormonsandgays.org website.
“It states very clearly that it is not a sin to be gay and that we as people who believe in Jesus Christ have a responsibly to love and to reach out to our brothers and sisters who are LGBT.”
The Church declined to be interviewed for this story, but a spokesperson from their headquarters in Salt Lake City, replied in an email that the Church would rather let the website speak for itself. This leaves mormonsandgays.org open to personal interpretation.
“What the Church is saying with this website is basically that it’s ok to BE gay, as long as you don’t DO gay.”
Troy Williams is Executive Director of Equality Utah, the state’s largest LGBT civil rights organization. Growing up Mormon and gay, he was raised with the Church’s long-standing doctrine against homosexuality. He says this shift in perspective has also changed the Church’s rhetoric.
“This is the first time the LDS Church is using the words gay and lesbian as nouns, and I will tell you that the level of conversation happening around LGBT issues in the LDS Church is so much better today.”
The Church may be changing the way it approaches the subject of same sex attraction, but one of its traditions remains steadfast, marriage is a sacred institution that occurs only between a man and a woman.
The Church fought hard to preserve this definition of marriage. In 2008, it was instrumental in helping to pass California’s Proposition 8, an initiative that temporarily banned same sex marriages in the state.
The California ban has since been lifted, and Nevada, Utah and Idaho – states with the highest Mormon populations in the country – have all had to recently legalize same sex marriage. But in the Mormon Church gay marriage remains taboo.
“I do not see the Mormon Church’s stance on gay marriage changing in the near future. I really don’t.”
Paul Reeve is professor of Mormon history at the University of Utah. He’s also a member of the Church.
“Marriage between a man and a woman is central to Mormon identity. In the 19th Century, Mormonism represented the most radical departure from traditional marriage in American history at that time because it articulated a position for polygamy as the ideal marriage system.”
Reeve says even with this history of polygamy that continues to haunt the Church, marriage between a man and a woman will continue to be the only acceptable form of marriage recognized by the Mormon Church.